CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez accused the opposition's presidential candidate Wednesday of concealing his ideological leanings and trying to mislead government supporters that he shares some of the president's left-leaning ideals.
Chavez accused Henrique Capriles of representing the interests of Venezuela's wealthy elite. He called the opposition leader part of the South American country's bourgeoisie, warning government backers not to be deceived.
"The doctrine of the bourgeoisie is inequality," Chavez told lawmakers during a special congressional ceremony.
Capriles, the Miranda state governor who handily won Venezuela's first-ever opposition primary Sunday, defines his political stance as "progressive," although he calls Chavez's socialist policies a failure that scared off investment and increased unemployment.
The 39-year-old Capriles describes himself as an admirer of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, saying he aims to establish business-friendly policies without compromising the state's responsibility to care for the poor.
He says he does not plan to dismantle many of the social programs for the poor established under Chavez's rule, but he strongly criticizes Chavez's economic policies and says growth of the private business sector would better serve Venezuelans.
Chavez derided Capriles, accusing him of falsely portraying himself as a leftist and challenging him to imitate a government supporter during next week's Carnival celebrations.
"Take advantage of Carnival and dress yourself up as a Chavista for a couple of days," Chavez joked.
Before Chavez spoke to lawmakers, Capriles told Union Radio that he is unconcerned by attacks leveled by Chavez and his allies ahead of the Oct. 7 presidential election.
"People know who I am," he said.
On Tuesday, Capriles said he would seek to avoid making verbal attacks, saying he would concentrate on calling attention to Venezuela's most pressing domestic woes and propose solutions to problems ranging from rampant violent crime to double-digit inflation.
"My commitment is not losing even a minute in conflict, fights and confrontation," he said.
Capriles is expected to face a tough race against Chavez, a former paratroop commander who after 13 years in office is a hero to many of his supporters and maintains a visceral connection to a significant segment of Venezuela's poor majority.
Capriles also condemned Venezuela's Supreme Court for ordering opposition electoral officials not to destroy lists of voters following Sunday's primary – a decision that Chavez and his allies applauded.
A group of opposition parties said destroying the voter lists would protect the identities of voters who could be targeted for persecution by the government because they demonstrated opposition to Chavez.
"It was to avoid the lists of persecution," Capriles said. "Now the government is concerned about who went out to vote; it's incredible."
After a failed 2004 recall vote against Chavez, a list of those who had petitioned for the plebiscite was leaked and widely circulated. Hundreds of people complained they were fired from government jobs or prevented from working for the government because they were on the list.
Chavez's government denied discriminating against anyone on the list.
Several opposition politicians have said some of the voter lists were burned. The opposition-aligned Globovision television channel has broadcast footage of what it says are piles of voter lists burning inside empty oil barrels.
Chavez condemned government foes Wednesday for defying the court's ruling, accusing his opponents of committing "unjustifiable actions."